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I turned over in bed and a spring creaked. Being one of those weird people — a writer, it got me thinking about where ideas come from and how to turn them into a story.
Until now, I’ve relied on searching for interesting facts, or that opening line that pops into my brain at some inconvenient time, but lying there thinking about the spring and linking it to what I have learnt about storytelling over the years brought new understanding.
The creaking spring is a trigger, but I realised turning that into a usable idea needs an understanding of the essential elements of story. So here are my ramblings dragged from lying there in bed thinking.
From the trigger I started asking myself WHAT IF?
This is another essential element to story – the cause-and-effect chain. To solve a problem, the protagonist must make a tough choice, a decision. When acted upon, this goes wrong (probably aided by the antagonist’s sabotage creating more conflict) and the problem gets worse (rising stakes). This creates more choices with bigger risk and an even harder decision. This cascade of decision-action-consequence with rising conflict and stakes coupled with the effect it has on the character’s life is (IMO) story.
Knowing the elements the story needs helps us use WHAT IF questions more effectively to develop a raw idea — a story starting with a broken spring.
(* NB: I make nothing from mentioning Scrapple. It’s just a program I use to help me think and organise. Google it if you’re interested).